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Indian Summer at the Fair

The North Georgia State Fair is a carnival that brings back all of the nostalgic sights, sounds, and tastes of county fairs of the past. Just make sure to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl first and then eat the funnel cake.

We made it out to the North Georgia State Fair at Jim R. Miller Park last weekend. Took three generations of the family out on a sunny Sunday afternoon to see what we could see.

I’d been meaning to go for years but never got around to it. I grew up in a town with a major county fair that included animal exhibits and blue ribbons for everything from squash to pies.

From that standpoint, the North Georgia State Fair falls short. It’s really more of a big carnival with a few exhibits and a petting zoo thrown in to give it a patina of authentic, old-time fair-ness. But for what it does have, this Fair is quite a hoot.

For starters, doesn't every child reach a point in life when they need to finally be exposed to carnies and the grand American tradition of roustabouts, sharpies, lot lizards and shills? It kind of prepares them for adult life, in a way. Even in a day and age of frequent fliers and globalization, there is something in the ‘pick up and go to the next town’ world of the carnie that still strikes a resonant chord in many of us.

On this Sunday the carnival workers weren’t particularly active. Barkers in their booths seemed desultory, content to let their colorful booths and trinkets lure passersby instead of pressing the hard sell. A higher number of the carnies seemed to be Carribbean then the ones I remembered from my youth, but thankfully enough of them reminded me of Tom Waits that I was able to enjoy a warm Indian Summer afternoon’s nostalgia bath.

And how about the food! There’s enough deep fried goodness for sale to make Paula Deen swear off carbs. Deep fried candy bars, tomatoes, cheese, funnel cakes, corn dogs—you name an unhealthy and possibly delicious junk food item and they’re frying it up in a vat of oil at the North Georgia State Fair.

Like your turkey legs smoked on the grill and stacked in juicy pyramids? This is your Valhalla. Wash it all down with lemonade or a multi-flavored slushy(you make it), then it’s off to a dessert of apple dumplings and ice cream, a “big chocolate thing” and cotton candy spun in more colors than Dolly Parton’s coat.

In the days before pastries and ice cream cones were available in every corner convenience store and fast food joint, the fair was an annual clearinghouse-bacchanal of all the things you couldn’t eat for the rest of the year.

But the best Fair advice I can give to you, fellow traveler, is the most obvious—troll the food stands after you ride the rides. Especially, if like me, you haven’t jumped a carnival ride in decades. Because between the equilibrium smashing and intestine jiggling of the Moonshot, Cyclops, and the classic Tilt-A-Whirl, let’s just leave it that you don’t want to take off with a pound of funnel cake on board, Rube.

The sights and smells and sounds swirl around as the dollars fly out of your poke and you debate whether it’s worth it to see The Giant Rat or the World’s Largest Snake. I wished for the sideshow freaks and hairies I remember my father talking about. In those days a young man learned a lot about life at the carnival sideshow.

Today’s kids have YouTube and trash television. The modern sideshow freaks have flown the carnival coop and make their fame on reality shows. Nostalgia only goes so far.

Today’s your last day to check out the North Georgia State Fair until the next Indian Summer. It might not live up to your memories of the County Fairs of your childhood, but that won’t matter to your kids as they take off across the sky on the Flying Circus Swing.

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